UPPER TRACT, W.Va. — A delegation of state emergency services leaders came to Pendleton County Wednesday to recognize the heroism of 13-year-old Zachary Higgins, who bashfully sat sideways in his folding chair with his legs hooked companionably over his father’s knee.
“On March 29, Zachary and his dad, George Frankowski, were spending the night in his dad’s 10 foot by 20 foot camper parked in his grandmother’s driveway when an extension cord caused an electrical fire,” said Upper Tract Fire Chief Mike Alt.
“Zachary who is challenged by Downs Syndrome, woke up to the smell of smoke with the smoke detector sounding,” Alt said.
Grandmother Linda Alt (no relation) said Zachary took his father’s hand and patted his face. By the time George woke up, his feet and socks were on fire.
“Zach’s exceptional – he knows things. He saved my son’s life,” she said.
Frankowski said Higgins saved two people’s lives that night. “Mine and his own – he wasn’t about to leave that trailer without me!”
Alt said Zachary was able to assist his father from the burning camper that within minutes became fully engulfed by the fire. The fire eventually consumed nearly everything, leaving nothing but a burnt trailer frame and debris from the furnishings.
“Just because people are challenged, they can still function as normal adults, recognize the sounds of a smoke alarm, identify smoke and fire and realize an emergency is occurring,” added Alt, who informed the state fire marshall’s office of Zachary’s bravery.
West Virginia State Fire Marshall Ken Tyree was happy to come to Pendleton County to recognize Higgins. He apologized for the lateness of the celebration since it happened in March.
“We just had glitches time-line-wise. It was hard to get everybody together at the same time,” he said.
He noted the pride and gratitude the family has in Zachary.
“His effort and act on that night is that example of family and community I hope we all have,” he said
Thinking about the possible negative effects that night might have had, he wanted to emphasize “the importance of fire prevention and safety as a whole, and the importance of things, such as smoke alarms, can play in keeping us safe.”
He presented a certificate and a flashlight to Higgins, “because you’re not only a light to your family and friends but a light and hero to me,” Tyree said.
“The story behind this celebration is exceptional. This is really neat – we don’t often get to celebrate happy events. This is a good day.” Tyree said.
Zachary also received a Junior Mountaineer Award and a medal from the governor’s office.
Vicki L. Hildreth, coordinator for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health Office of Emergency Medical Services for Children, provides training for children in fire prevention, what the children need to know, when and how to call 911, smoke alarms and to not fear the EMS personnel.
“Zachary is a special needs child, and it was incredible that he was able to save his father and himself,” she said.
Hildreth’s job is to ensure children under 18 have access to health care, not as adults, but as children who have to be treated differently from adults in ambulances and hospital emergency rooms. She also works with parents and other agencies, such as the governor’s highway safety group and the West Virginia Violence and Injury Prevention agency that assists in her funding.
“My job is absolutely my joy. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked, but I love it,” she said.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health and Public Health Officer, was pleased to acknowledge and celebrate what Higgins did.
“He symbolizes our ability to protect ourselves, when we have the proper training, and demonstrates even children can save lives,” he said.
Gupta indicated EMS for Children (EMSC) provides training, equipment and supplies not only to EMS agencies, but also to hospitals. Healthcare communications boards and FACES pain rating scales have been placed in every state hospital and transporting unit to assist personnel in communicating with non-verbal patients, such as children or stroke victims.
Child restraints or car seats have been placed in every ambulance. Intraosseous (bone) infusion systems, used for baby and child transfusions, are on all Advanced Life Support ambulances. The EMSC has provided training in the use of this equipment and child S.T.A.B.L.E. assessments, meaning Sugar, Temperature, Airway, Blood Pressure, Lab Work and Emotional support for the family, Gupta said.
The EMSC program provides safety and injury prevention initiatives to children statewide by using Andy the Ambulance to talk to kids about when to call 911, and what to do in an emergency. They also sponsor programs about ATV safety; bicycle and helmet safety; child passenger safety; and the National Association of Search and Rescue Hug-a-Tree Program to teach what to do when lost in the wilderness, Gupta added.
George Frankowski thanked the people who had participated in the celebration for his son’s heroism and the Upper Tract Volunteer Fire Department.
“They are the best of the best. And I thank my son. He would not leave me, and he saved my life,” he said.